The Sussex Spaniel reportedly originated on the Rosehill Park estate in Brightling, Sussex County, England, in the 1850s. Augustus Elliot Fuller, the owner of Rosehill, is credited with developing the breed as a field dog built to easily penetrate dense brush and flush game. It is thought that Fuller crossed a variety of spaniel breeds, including the Springer, with hounds to create the Sussex. In 1882, Moses Woolland became involved with the breed and within a few years his Sussex Spaniels were dominating the English show ring. He also bred and showed Field Spaniels under the kennel name Bridford. Another key person in the history of the Sussex Spaniel is Campbell Newington, who obtained his first Sussex in 1887 and adopted the kennel prefix Rosehill. Together, Newington and Woolland refined the Sussex Spaniel and achieved unparalleled consistency in quality and type. In 1909, another gentleman, J. E. Kerr, started showing and breeding Sussex Spaniels at Harviestoun Castle in Scotland, where he also was known for his Shetland ponies and Cairn Terriers.
World War I affected this breed along with so many others. The hunting preferences of British sportsmen changed with time, and rather than a low-slung spaniel they wanted a more all-around hunting dog, with longer legs for speed in the field. That was not the Sussex Spaniel as it had been developed by Woolland, Newington and Kerr. The breed suffered during the 1920s. By the late 1930s, specimens of the old type began to reappear. A few Sussex Spaniels were imported to the United States during this time, with one of the last imports reportedly rescued from a ship that had been torpedoed by a German U-boat. World War II almost extinguished this breed in the United Kingdom. Fortunately, a breed enthusiast named Joy Freer virtually single-handedly saved the Sussex from extinction.
Ms. Freer got her first Sussex Spaniel in 1923 and began competing and breeding under the kennel name Four Clover. She bred her first champion in 1925 – an old-style Sussex reported to be one of the finest of the time. Freer is credited with saving the breed during World War II. She kept eight Sussex Spaniels during that time; these dogs are thought to be the ancestors of all Sussex Spaniels today. After the war, the breed experienced a bit of a revival in the United States. A number of dogs were imported in 1969 and the following few years. While still a rare breed, the Sussex Spaniel is no longer in danger of disappearing. Today’s Sussex is competitive in the show ring and has been titled in all performance events sponsored by the American Kennel Club which are open to sporting breeds. This is a docile dog which retains its keen hunting instincts and also makes a cheerful, albeit laid-back family pet.
The average life span of the Sussex Spaniel is 12 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include congenital deafness, ear infections, distichiasis, retinal dysplasia, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, patent ductus arteriosus, prostate cancer, pulmonary stenosis and Tetralogy of Fallot.